Tech companies need to stand together and support comprehensive immigration reform, and not just changes to the H-1B program for specialist workers, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin wrote in a letter to prominent technology executives on Tuesday.
The letter addressed to the CEOs of Microsoft, Facebook, Intel and Google among other companies urged them not to support “stand-alone” legislation raising the cap on the H-1B visa. A total of 85,000 such visas will be distributed this year, and applications opened April 1.
“It is important to note that technology companies are not the only ones who are being hurt by our broken immigration system,” Durbin wrote in the letter. “American workers continue to suffer with immigration laws that allow unscrupulous employers to game the system and import cheap foreign labor.”
The issue of the H-1B visas, which tech companies say help attract talent from around the world, has gained new traction with the formation of tech-backed groups like Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us, which supports comprehensive immigration reform. In a Washington Post op-ed published in 2013, Zuckerberg specifically mentioned H-1Bs, writing that each visa-holder helps create two to three new American jobs. The Facebook founder went on to voice support for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, among other measures.
"FWD.us remains deeply committed to fixing our badly broken immigration system by helping pass a comprehensive legislative solution that will boost economic growth, create American jobs, and do right by American families -- and we know that the time is now for House Republicans to take action," FWD.us communications director Kate Hansen said in an email on Wednesday.
While his letter was addressed to the CEOs of household-name technology companies, Durbin also directed his message Tuesday to Republicans in Congress, writing that an over-emphasis on the issue of H-1Bs “destroys the delicate political balance achieved in our bipartisan bill and calls into question the good faith of those who would sacrifice millions of lives for H-1B relief.”
The use of H-1B visas by tech firms has been criticized by experts and reform advocates as a way for the companies to bring in cheap labor at the expense of American jobs. The tech companies counter that they fill a critical gap of American talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -– an assertion that some researchers also deny.
--- Matthew DeLuca